Being confident in your overhead position is one of the most important factors for successful snatch and jerk, at least for the reason that if you do not procure a proper lockout your lift will be red-lighted.
There are multiple factors determining how good your overhead position is. In general, it is all about flexibility and mobility, but in order to improve your overhead position, you need to understand what exactly we mean by these words. There are four main factors:
- Flexibility and mobility of the upper back
- Flexibility and mobility of the wrist and shoulder joints
- Fast elbow lockout
- Stability of the upper back and shoulder girdle muscles
There is also one thing that I would want to mention separately—flexibility and mobility of hip joints and lumbar spine. I mention it separately because its involvement in overhead position is not direct. But without the ability to maintain the correct position of the lower body in the receiving position, you would need to compensate with incorrect
overhead position, which is absolutely uncomfortable and will lack stability even if the four factors above are present.
When approaching flexibility and mobility, you need to work carefully, since extreme flexibility and mobility may lead to instability—the last thing that you need for a good overhead position. You only need as much flexibility and mobility as would allow you to lock the joints exactly at such a position that the bar is held right above your scapulae, not above your head. The problem with extreme flexibility and mobility often arises when athletes come to weightlifting from sports which requires extreme mobility and flexibility (such as yoga or gymnastics).
Now that we have at least a general understanding of what we need, we may consider possible methods and ways to improve our overhead position.
Flexibility & Mobility
To maintain mobility and flexibility of your joints, you should use the methods listed below. They give the best effect when combined. In fact, they shall always be a part of a successful lifter’s routine, but the best effect is achieved when they are applied either to novice routine or during recovery (intra-season) period, where there is no heavy work in strength movements and no big weights.
Light stretching after every workout:
Apart from the recovery effect, moderate stretching after each workout is a good thing to incorporate into your routine as it does not impose any restrictions and does not require cautious approach. It is very important to make it at the end of the workout, both for the safety (the muscles are already warm), and because you also achieve a recovery effect and you go to rest after the workout, thus not putting stretched muscles under stress.
Deep stretching once a week:
This one requires a much more cautious approach, more time and knowledge. I would recommend doing it either after a heavy workout (followed by a rest day) or on a separate day (but make sure you warm your muscles up before stretching). Deep stretching means that you devote 20-40 min to it and stretch every muscle with enough attention and stress. There are many stretching exercise (both weightlifting-specific and from other sports, which you may use effectively).
Sauna and massage:
Despite not being that popular in Western countries (at least as far as I know), these recovery procedures are very effective and commonly used in many sports in Russia (including weightlifting). It helps to recover your muscles, to relax them, making them “softer” and more flexibly. I strongly recommend making sure that the next day after sauna/massage you have a rest day.
There are also certain “never do” rules you need to follow to make sure that these methods are effective and safe:
- Never stretch your back before the training session: When doing so, you literally increase the space between spine disks, increasing the risk of discs’ herniation when loading your back.
- Do not go extremes with deep stretching/sauna/massage: On the first glance, these look like relaxing procedures, pleasant to you and your body. But in fact, they put the body under stress (though completely different to training stress) and when used without caution may have adverse effect for your workouts.
To avoid any confusion, by stability I mean an ability to hold the muscles and joints in correct positions without extra movements, shaking or high muscular efforts to prevent the bar from losing its position. The cue will be pretty evident here—to be able to fix the bar better, you need to keep the bar fixed. There are certain static exercises and elements benefiting it:
Front squat bar holds
: Unrack the bar 10-30% heavier than your best front squat and stand still with extremely tight back, high elbows and perfect position for 5-10 seconds. I recommend doing them after the heavy front squat workout. This exercise shall be used cautiously and with a spotter, since working with weights higher than your maximum is always dangerous.
As simple as it is, you fix the bar in overhead position and hold it there for some time (does not require big weights here) trying to achieve maximum stability and comfort, so that you feel that everything is locked and your muscles do not struggle to keep the bar in correct position. There are lots of ways to do it as a separate lift and as part of other lifts:
- Snatch grip overhead holds in full squat
- Clean grip overhead holds in full squat
- Pauses in the bottom of a snatch
- Pauses in the split during jerk
A very good exercise for getting novice lifters well-shaped for heavier work, it also shall not be neglected by more experienced lifters. I like to include it in the end of the workout or on GPP day. It includes supermans, planks and variations of these exercises.
Improving Stabilization Muscles
The idea of this work is very close to exercises listed in B) above, this work targets some particular muscles in a way that forces stabilizing muscles to perform work which is not performed during competition lifts.
- Overhead bar holds in full squat against bar movement: You get into a full squat position with the bar overhead and have a spotter carefully applying force to different parts of the bar in different directions while you are trying not to let the bar move. The key word here is carefully.
- Jerk with the bumper plates hanging on rubber bands tied to the ends of the bar
If you try it, you will not need any further explanation why this exercise stresses stabilization muscles a lot.
- Overhead squats with a bumper plate.
As I mentioned above, the ability to maintain an arched and tight lower back in the bottom position is something you need to feel comfortable with in the bottom of the snatch no matter how good your overhead bar security is. There are various ways to procure it, but there are two particular things that I really like:
- Seated good mornings: Aim on a stretching effect here. Pick a moderate weight that will be sufficient to help you to lean down to the bench and stretch you. Do it in a careful and slow manner, focusing on reaching as low as you can.
- Holding a full squat posture with the bar overhead: This is static work which is complemented by some extra effect—you need to have someone standing behind you and slowly pressing with his shin into your spine while holding your shoulders with his arms so that he does not cause you fall forward. It is very important that the assistant approaches this exercises carefully and does not try to apply too much force. Also be sure that the assistant uses his shin to press into you, not the knee (as it would have force applied to a one particular point, not to the significant part of the spine as in the case with using the shin).
These are some methods that I use with my trainees. I used all of them myself and found them effective and beneficial. Hopefully some of you will manage to improve your overhead position with the help of this article!